Curating ‘Craft’ – beery news from Nashville

By BottleShop founder & MD Andrew Morgan

I’m writing this in Nashville at the Craft Brewers Conference as my yearly trip allows me the opportunity to see what’s happening in American beer culture, see the breweries we already represent and make new relationships. Better than working down the coal mine.

As a global trend, there are more breweries than ever here. It’s hard not to feel that a new brewery who defines themselves as unique could come here and realise that an embroidered work shirt, big beard (not the ladies) and a name combination of an animal, geographic location, colour and/or reference to water does not make them unique. But their discovery is less about pain and more about a realisation that their ideology is shared by hundreds of others.
However, how do we sort the wheat from the chaff? What’s my agenda over here when it comes to finding new beers for our awesome customers back in the UK? One simple criteria is whether they’re brewing anything that’s truly #WorldClass. This is beer that you can crack open anywhere and make the room go ‘wow’. It’s the backbone of what we believe in at The BottleShop and brewing beer that’s enjoyed by your taproom punters isn’t necessarily going to make waves in London. However, as I found yesterday visiting Blackstone Brewery, this often isn’t down to a lack of ambition, it’s just that their focus is on their core location, not multiple state, multiple country distribution. This was really heartening to see – and should never be forgotten when engaging in beer tourism. The foothills can be just as enjoyable as the mountains – especially when you don’t want to put on your climbing gear. Best beer I’ve had so far in Nashville? Their CBC Lager. It was perfect - but there would be absolutely no reason to ship it 3,500 miles. You’ll have to come here to enjoy it.

So, back to the original question – who am I seeking out? Certainly some of the old-guard who believe in refrigeration. This unlocked Great Divide, Left Hand, Anderson Valley and a few others last year. We also seek out the hype breweries as our ability to bring a single pallet over on a plane unlocks such amazing opportunity for us. Not a huge amount for a brewery to spare, not too much for us to worry about selling but a phenomenal opportunity to raise the bar when it comes to quality beer in the UK.
Lined up while I’m here are hourly meetings with a variety of brewers. We’ll be seeing if we’re a good fit for each other. Sometimes we end up losing to a competitor which can be frustrating but it usually comes down to the brewery believing ambient distribution is OK. For me, it’s kinda like finding out the person you’ve been courting ends up being a smoker. If you’d have told me that at the beginning, we’d have saved each other a lot of time. Sometimes a bigger fish comes along with an offer too tasty to refuse. This has just happened with a brewery we’ve just started working with where 20 pallets will be entering the UK later this year for a supermarket. That’s game-over for us as we know the beer is going to taste terrible when it’s been warm for a couple of months. So, we try to avoid anyone that might want to take a commercial route that we wouldn’t agree with.

It’s a big game of relationship management. Trying to work out if we’ll enjoy working with each other and if we can kick up a storm of beery awesomeness together. It’s great when it works and you learn to accept that some relationships just aren’t meant to work. That’s OK though as we need all kinds of channels to bring appropriate beers to appropriate people. We don’t want to be elitist, we just want to work with the best.

Watch this space to find out who we’ll be working with next.

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